National Security

FP’s Situation Report: Giving the Haqqani Network a pass?; Dobbins gets slammed; al-Qaida apologies for Yemen attack; Less burial space for vets; Want that contract? Get to the “church” on time; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Is the Obama administration giving a pass to some of Afghanistan's most notorious insurgents? The Haqqani Network has long been one of the most lethal and dangerous insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan. Now it's forcing an interagency battle of wills in Washington. More than a year ago, the Obama administration designated the Haqqani Network a foreign terrorist organization, but critics of White House policy say it has done little to try to dismantle an insurgent group seen as one of the biggest threats to stability in Afghanistan. That may be about to change, as Congress attempts to force the White House to put some teeth in its policy.

Tucked inside the defense spending bill the U.S. Senate passed late Thursday evening is a provision that forces the administration to come up with a plan to attack the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network where it lives -- by going after its cash. It's an effort the White House and the State Department have been resistant to pursue as it attempts to draw down its forces in Afghanistan, build momentum toward a peace settlement in the region and mend ties with the Pakistani government - the very government with which the Haqqanis have had ties for years.  But the provision stayed in the bill.

"We need a comprehensive strategy from them about how the network operates, how they recruit and how they travel," a Congressional staffer told Foreign Policy. "Shockingly, nothing like this has been done."

Although the amendment requires a range of actions, its primary function is to force the Obama Administration to get serious about curtailing the Network's financing.

Dunford writes a letter to Hagel. Congressional frustration over this issue has been mounting with the administration for more than a year. Obama's team first designated the Haqqanis a foreign terrorist group in September 2012 but seemed to do little to go after the network's finances or learn much about its recruiting and other activities. Then last month, Gen. Joe Dunford, the top commander in Afghanistan, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel raising concerns about the lack of a comprehensive effort to counter the Network. The letter, whose contents are classified, hinted that a whole-of-government approach would put added pressure on the Haqqanis and fully leverage its designation as a foreign terrorist organization.

Congress slams Dobbins. On Dec. 11, House members met with Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins to discuss the issue but came away angry that Dobbins was not taking their concerns seriously.

"The manner in which the Ambassador addressed Members' questions was not helpful to our efforts to address this important issue mutually," according to a Dec. 20 letter six members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry obtained by Foreign Policy. "Frankly, his manner was one of the least professional engagements we have had with the Administration." Read the rest of our story, coming up on foreignpolicy.com later this morning.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report where we note that we're going on holiday hiatus - today is our last day for awhile. Look for our boy Dan Lamothe to crank it up starting Jan. 2 - and we'll be back Jan. 6. See you in the new year and thank you very much for reading Situation Report. You've made 2013 full of awesomeness one day after another.

If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. If you like what you see, tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Speaking of terrorist cash flows: Two activists in the Mideast, one from Qatar and another from Yemen, are accused of having terror links. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake: "The U.S. government this week said the head of a human rights organization working on behalf of Islamist political prisoners was also a financier for al Qaeda. Most of the world knows Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi as a Qatari history professor and human-rights activist. The Swiss-based organization he founded, known as al-Karama from the Arab word for dignity, has worked closely with the United Nations and American human rights groups, most notably Human Rights Watch. According to the U.S. government, however, al-Naimi is also a major financier of al Qaeda. On Wednesday, the Treasury Department issued a designation of al-Naimi that said he oversaw the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen over the last 11 years. In 2013, the designation says, al-Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via the group's representative in Syria. In the same notice, the Treasury Department also designated Abdulwahab Al-Humayqani, al-Karama's representative in Yemen, as a financier and member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's Yemen affiliate. On Twitter, al-Naimi acknowledged that he and al-Humayqani, whom he calls by his first name, were designated for supporting terrorism. Al-Naimi has resigned as president of al-Karama's board, but told the group's senior leadership that he intends to challenge the Treasury Department's designation." Read the rest here.

Wha? Al-Qaida apologizes for attack on hospital in Yemen. AP's Maamoun Youssef: "In a rare public apology, the militant leader of al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen has said that one of his fighters disobeyed orders and attacked a hospital attached to the Defense Ministry during a December assault that killed 52 people. Qassim al-Rimi, commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said in a video posted on militant websites that the attackers were warned in advance not to enter the hospital within the complex, nor a place for prayer there. But he said one fighter did. ‘Now we acknowledge our mistake and guilt,' al-Rimi said in a video released late Saturday by al-Qaeda's media arm al-Mallahem. ‘We offer our apology and condolences to the victims' families. We accept full responsibility for what happened in the hospital and will pay blood money for the victims' families.' The apology seemed prompted by Yemen state television earlier broadcasting a video showing a gunman attacking doctors and other hospital staff. Several al-Qaeda jihadis tried to dismiss the video as fake on militant websites, but the outcry apparently embarrassed the al-Qaeda branch to the point of issuing an unusual expression of regret from the group." Read the rest here.

In South Sudan, a rush to the exits for Americans. The WSJ's Heidi Vogt: "The U.S. military on Sunday rushed to evacuate American citizens from a rebel-held town in South Sudan, the latest sign that a country the U.S. helped create might be spiraling toward civil war. About 15 Americans were evacuated on Sunday from the town of Bor in helicopters, according to a State Department spokeswoman. The flights were part of a broader exodus of international workers and South Sudanese from fighting between factions of South Sudan's army. The U.S. has evacuated about 380 U.S. officials and private citizens, said the spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. A political power struggle between former South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir ahead of 2015 elections appears to have set off the violence. It quickly descended into ethnic clashes that risk splitting the country of 10 million. By Sunday, rebel factions allied with Mr. Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group, had solidified control of territory they seized in a week of gunbattles with government forces that have left 500 dead, according to figures provided by South Sudan's military, other officials and the U.N." More here.

Wanna meet Kim Jong Un's family? Hurry up, before it's too late.The North Korean dictator has been taking care of the family business. But last week, he had executed his uncle for treason. In "Next of Kim" on Foreign Policy, Dennis Halpin writes: "In the mid-18th century, Korea was ruled by King Yeongjo, who governed according to austere Confucian principles. One day, he began to hear reports that his son, Crown Prince Sado, was addicted to wine and women; more worryingly, Sado would wander the streets at night, randomly committing murder. There were even rumors that Sado sought to overthrow the king and seize power. Fearing for the safety of his kingdom but unable to order the death of his own son, Yeongjo ordered him placed outside in a box used for the storage of rice. Most Koreans know what happened to the 'rice box prince,' as Sado later came to be known -- he died of starvation and suffocation, as those in the palace heard his cries for help.

Fast-forward 250 years later, and we're back asking the same question: Is blood really thicker than water? Ordering the execution of one's uncle, as Kim Jong Un did on Dec. 12, is brutal in any culture, but especially so in a place like North Korea, where even decades of totalitarian rule have not worn away strong Confucian traditions of filial piety. It's important to remember that Jang Song Thaek, who was long thought to be the second most powerful man in North Korea, married into the Kim family. But Kim still violated a serious taboo by having him killed." Read the rest here.

Burial space in demand for vets. The WSJ's Ben Kesling and Erica Phillips: "As interments of veterans and their dependents climb to a record level, the Department of Veterans Affairs is rushing to add burial space at the fastest rate since the Civil War. The project is adding thousands of burial sites and vault spaces across the country. But a Nevada congresswoman is pressing the VA to add more national cemeteries, especially in Western states that now have few cemeteries but whose senior populations are growing. ‘The prestige of being buried in a national cemetery is something every veteran is entitled to,' said Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, who has been prodding the VA to open more such cemeteries in places like Nevada. It is among about a dozen U.S. states that lack a federally funded and operated national cemetery, and rely mostly on veterans' cemeteries run by states or Native American tribal governments." Read the rest, plus look at two graphs depicting the issue, here.

Window Dressing: Why Obama's attempts at intel reform probably won't go anywhere. FP's own Elias Groll: Eventually, President Barack Obama is going to have to go on the offensive in the debate over how to reform American intelligence gathering practices, and on Friday, he offered a few hints as to how he might do so.

In an end-of-year press conference before he left for his Hawaii vacation, Obama signaled a willingness to place control of a controversial database of telephone records in the hands of a third-party. Additionally, the president said that he may be willing to grant foreigners some privacy protections." More here.

Navy extends bennies to gay spouses in Japan. The WaPo's Josh Hicks: "...The change came after U.S. and Japanese officials agreed to an interpretation of the status of forces agreement between the two nations, concluding that the term ‘spouses' applied to all individuals who are legally married to Department of Defense personnel. ‘We are thankful for the support of the Japanese government as we worked through this review, and in supporting our efforts to meet the DOD guidance," said Lt. Col. David Honchul, a spokesman for U.S. armed forces in Japan." Read the rest here.

Ray Mabus on the Navy's prostitution and bribery scandal: "we go after people." FP's Dan Lamothe from Friday's presser at the Pentagon: "For months, the U.S. Navy has weathered a titillating scandal involving a fat-cat defense contractor from Malaysia who allegedly used cash bribes, prostitutes and posh hotel rooms to lure top Navy officials into providing classified information he used to defraud the United States. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus addressed the controversy for the first time Friday, pushing back against the notion the service is a soft target for corruption while acknowledging even more Navy officers could be take down by an ongoing investigation. ‘We go after people,' he told reporters at the Pentagon. ‘We have set up procedures to try to prevent fraud, but any time -- any time -- you have this kind of money, there are going to be people trying to steal. Trying to defraud the government.'" More here.

Want to get a contract with the federal government? Get to the church, er, the place, on time! A Florence, Ala. Company learned the hard way that deadlines means deadlines. The firm, RDT-Semper Tek JV, LLC, protested the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to reject their proposal for a contract when a messenger failed to deliver the bid on time. The Comptroller General at the GAO denied the request. We love some of the facts of this case - (and by the way how much money did it cost to establish them?) "...We turn next to the portion of this protest where the protester and agency disagree about the facts. According to a statement prepared by RDT's representative, he arrived at the facility, parked his car, and knocked at the mailroom door "at approximately 1:58 p.m." Decl. of RDT Representative (Aug. 30, 2013), at 2. He explained that the door was opened "almost immediately" by a female mailroom clerk. Id. He informed her that he had a proposal to drop off, and she escorted him to a counter in the mailroom where she then asked him if he wanted a receipt. Id. The RDT representative requested a receipt, and the mailroom clerk walked to the back of the mailroom, turned left and went out of his sight, and "was gone for several minutes." Id. When the clerk returned she handed the RDT representative a hand-written receipt on a plain piece of paper. The RDT representative then thanked her, picked up the receipt, and left. Id. The RDT representative states that he did not read the receipt when it was given to him because he was so confident that the package had been delivered on time." We thank the friend of Situation Report for pointing this whole thing out, and read the rest of the investigation here.

Closing in: Obama and Congress are getting Gitmo closer to closed. The National Journal's Stacy Kaper this morning: "The tide is turning in favor of President Obama's long-suffering bid to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Obama issued an executive order to close the Cuba-based detention facility on the opening days of his presidency. Five years later, it remains open, a sharp reminder of the chasm between the idealism of campaigning and the harsh reality of governing. But after years of setbacks, the president is making progress toward closing the base-and Congress is helping. The administration is using the limited executive authority it has to move prisoners out. And following two and a half years in which the administration did not transfer any detainees, the last few months have seen a series of aggressive moves to transfer them elsewhere, dwindling Gitmo's population to 158 as of Dec. 20." More here.

Gitmo detainees are going home. Former Pentagon spokesman J.D. Gordon asks, could terror attacks rise? Gordon: Americans should brace for shock.  More terrorist attacks may be on the way. In a likely precursor to a wave of Guantanamo detainee repatriations overseas, President Obama has released two "high risk" Saudi battle-hardened al-Qaeda veterans of the Afghanistan War, one of whom had volunteered for a suicide mission. Said Muhammad Husyan Qahtani and Hamoud Abdullah Hamoud were whisked away this week by a Saudi jet to enter a 3-month rehabilitation program for radical Islamic militants." Read the rest here.

Who knew? NORAD spends a whopping $231 billion-with-a-B on tracking Santa Claus. JK! It's the Duffel Blog: "Many know the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve. Few know how much it costs the American taxpayer. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) puts the cost of tracking Santa at $231 billion this year, a ten percent increase from 2012. The costs began to accrue in the planning stages. Due to Pentagon rules, a large scale publicity stunt needs to be supervised by several generals. Six Lieutenant Generals were honorarily promoted, four from the Air Force and two from the Army. Their promotion ceremonies alone cost $88 billion." Read the rest here.

 

 

 

National Security

FP’s Situation Report: The AF general in charge of ICMBs was drunk in Moscow; Mabus on the hot seat this ayem; Poll: Afghanistan not high on Americans’ list; War fears in South Sudan; Breaking: NSA intercepted Santa messages; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

A general behaving badly: Air Force Gen. Mike Carey drank too much on an official visit to Moscow, insulted his Russian hosts and hung out with two women he met in a bar. Oh, and he's also the guy in charge of the Air Force's ICBMs. The WaPo's Craig Whitlock: "...Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was commander of the Air Force's arsenal of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, "acted in a manner that exceeded the limits of accepted standards of good conduct" during a four-day visit to Moscow in July, according to an investigation conducted by the Air Force inspector general. Carey's behavior stunned his aides and other colleagues traveling with him for a nuclear security exercise and meetings with Russian officials. They said he started drinking during a stopover in Zurich and kept it up during three days in Moscow, causing a string of gaffes and embarrassments that led Air Force officials to relieve him of his command.

"Carey was fired in October from his job as commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for maintaining and operating the country's intercontinental ballistic missiles. At the time, Air Force leaders said he was under investigation for ‘personal misbehavior' but divulged few details because the case was pending.  The Air Force released the partly redacted 44-page investigative report Thursday in response to requests filed by reporters under the Freedom of Information Act... The report says that Carey reported his contact with the foreign women upon his return to the United States and gave their business cards to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. They were not identified in the report. Although Carey defended his actions to investigators, other members of his delegation said they were shocked by his behavior. ‘I realized that this was putting us all at risk, especially Russia and women, and I just wanted nothing to do with that,' a female U.S. official, whose name was redacted from the report, told investigators."

Wait, wha? Whitlock: "...Carey received a ‘letter of counseling' for his actions and is now assigned as a special assistant to the commander of the Air Force's Space Command. Although he was removed from his command job at the 20th Air Force, he retains his rank and does not face any other disciplinary measures, Air Force officials said." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report where we note that we'll soon be going on holiday hiatus - Monday is our last day for awhile. In the meantime, stay in touch.

And if you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. If you like what you see, tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Page One: Obama threatens to veto Iran sanctions. The WSJ's Carol Lee and Jay Solomon: "The White House issued a rare veto threat in response to a bipartisan Senate bill that would slap Iran with new sanctions if it violates an interim deal reached last month to curb its nuclear program. The threat sets up a standoff in the new year between President Barack Obama and more than two dozen Senate Democrats and Republicans who introduced the legislation on Thursday. The challenge to Mr. Obama is particularly stark because half of the lawmakers sponsoring the new bill are from his own party. The bill could also imperil Mr. Obama's efforts to reach a diplomatic end to the decade-long standoff over Iran's nuclear program, which administration officials hope will be a signature achievement of his second term... Iranian officials didn't comment Thursday on the introduction of the legislation. But in recent days they have described Iranian President Hasan Rouhani as in a power struggle with hard-liners in Iran's military and clergy over the November agreement with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, a bloc called the P5+1. Any moves by the U.S. to impose new sanctions on Tehran, said these officials, could weaken Mr. Rouhani's hand." Read the rest here.

NDAA: Hagel is pleased. The Senate last night gave its final approval to the defense funding bill - the National Defense Authorization Act - by voting for it 84-15. The House had already passed the bill. In a statement from a defense official: "Secretary Hagel is pleased the House and now the Senate has voted to support a bill that grants the Defense Department critical authorities and reforms how the military will be able to prosecute sexual assault cases. The Secretary continues to believe that sexual assault is one of the most vexing challenges facing the military.  We'll move out smartly to implement these new authorities once they're signed into law."

The bill changes the legal landscape for sexual assault cases in the mil. The WaPo's Ed O'Keefe: "Congress passed a broad set of changes to U.S. military personnel policy late Thursday, forcing the Pentagon to revamp how it deals with cases of sexual assault and rape in the ranks. The changes would be a victory for the estimated tens of thousands of troops who have been sexually abused in recent years, as well as a triumph for the growing number of women serving in Congress, who pushed for reform."

What does the legislation do? O'Keefe, con't: "The legislation would end the statute of limitations for cases of sexual assault or rape; bar military commanders from overturning jury convictions in sexual assault and rape cases; make it a crime to retaliate against people who report such crimes; mandate the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of such crimes; and give civilian defense officials more control over prosecutions. Although significant, the changes would stop short of what some advocates want." More here.

Murray might be backing away from the COLA cut. Politico's Austin Wright: "Sen. Patty Murray is distancing herself from a cut in military pensions in the budget deal she brokered with Rep. Paul Ryan.

Her unease about a key element of her own deal, which passed the Senate on Wednesday and is now headed to President Barack Obama, comes amid a backlash from veterans groups and Senate defense hawks that has put her and her colleagues in a tough spot going into an election year. Murray's response: The pension cut isn't final.

Murray on the Senate floor: "We wrote this bill in a way that will allow two years before this change is implemented so that Democrats and Republicans can keep working to either improve this provision or find smarter savings elsewhere." More here.

The picture of Afghanistan is falling off America's piano: 66 percent say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, according to a new poll. "Americans express near-?record discontent and regret over the 13-year war in Afghanistan, during which 2,289 U.S. troops have died and more than 19,000 have been wounded, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Fully 66 percent of Americans say the battle, which began with nearly unanimous support, has not been worth fighting. A majority of respondents have doubted the war's value in each Post-ABC poll since 2010, with current disapproval only one percentage point below July's record mark. A record 50 percent now "strongly" believe the war is not worth its costs. However, and this is important: "Despite the skepticism, a 55 percent majority favors keeping some U.S. forces in Afghanistan for anti-insurgency operations and training, while just over four in 10 prefer removing all troops." Read the rest here.

Standing at a precipice: War fears mount in South Sudan. The NYT's Rick Gladstone and Alan Cowell with a London dateline: "The United Nations said on Friday it had sent helicopters to rescue personnel from a base in South Sudan that came under lethal attack as a political crisis worsened significantly and President Obama warned that the world's youngest country ‘stands at the precipice.' The number of civilians seeking refuge in the United Nations' other facilities there exceeded 30,000 and diplomats expressed fears about the potential for a civil war. Britain, which began evacuating its nationals on Thursday, said Friday that it would send a second airplane to Juba, the capital. ‘We strongly advise all British nationals in South Sudan to leave the country if they can do so safely,' the Foreign Office said, adding that it might become more difficult to escape if the situation worsened further. The United States suspended operations at its embassy in Juba this week and offered similar advice to Americans." More here.

The Navy scandal widens. The NYT's Chris Drew and Danielle Ivory: "Amid a scandal that has already ensnared two ship supply companies in allegations of overbilling the Navy, a third firm that provides services to the Navy's fleet has placed one of its senior executives on leave over questions about how he handled Navy contracts at another company. The third firm, Multinational Logistic Services, known as MLS, is the Navy's largest ship supply company, with $346 million in contracts for ports in Africa, the Mediterranean, Central America and the Pacific...

"The questions about Mr. Khan now mean that companies that provide security and dockside services for the Navy in almost every corner of the globe have been touched by the controversy. The Navy suspended Inchcape last month from winning new federal business over allegations of overbilling the Navy for services in the Middle East and Africa. In September, the Navy arrested the owner of its main ship supply company in the Pacific, Leonard Glenn Francis, on charges that he bribed Navy officials to help him overcharge the Navy. Now, with questions arising about Mr. Khan's move to MLS, a growing number of government contract experts say that abuses in the ship supply industry are so widespread that the Navy should cancel all such contracts and revamp its contracting system." More here.

Ray Mabus is at the podium today in the Pentagon to talk contracting. The Navy Secretary will brief reporters today at 9:45 a.m. on "husbanding policies and contracting initiatives." Should be able to watch it live here.

Hagel and Dempsey do a year-end briefing for reporters. The two appeared in the briefing room - 25 minutes after starting time in what is becoming SOP - and took questions on a wide variety of topics.

Hagel on military compensation reform: "We also recognize that we can no longer put off military compensation reform. DOD's leadership, Chairman [Gen. Martin] Dempsey, the service chiefs, the service secretaries, and myself, we all know that we need to slow cost growth in military compensation. Otherwise, we'll have to make disproportionate cuts to military readiness and modernization. DOD cannot sustain these current programs as they are structured. We will work with Congress to bring the rate of growth of our compensation and benefits programs in line with budget limitations and fiscal realities. We know that many proposals to change military compensation will be controversial and unpopular...Tough decisions will have to be made on compensation. The leadership of DOD is prepared to engage the Congress in achieving compensation reform. But any changes to cost-of-living adjustments should not apply to medically disabled retirees. These retirees need to be exempted from the changes in the budget agreement just passed by Congress."

Dempsey on Pakistan and problems with retrograde at Torkham Gate: "I mean, it is about options. We have the finest logistics architecture and enterprise in the world, that is to say, the Department of Defense, United States military. We'll get it done. It may be more expensive if it -- if this persists. We're engaged with our Pakistani partners, but it won't affect our -- it won't affect the way we operate, nor the way we retrograde."
Dempsey on worries that the Afghanistan security forces are cutting deals with the Taliban like what occurred recently in Sangin - and why they need a security agreement: "I think if it -- if it spread, if it -- if it affected the upcoming elections in any way, it could become malign. It's somewhat predictable, by the way, as the secretary said, but I want to highlight, this is exactly why we need the BSA [bilateral security agreement] to be signed, because what hangs in the balance, the longer the BSA is unresolved, is the confidence of the people of Sangin questioning whether we're going to actually be there for them and continue to allow the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] to develop so that it can counter the Taliban's influence. So if you want an example of why we need the BSA signed soon, there's one."

Hagel on why a security agreement with Afghanistan is important now and why Afghans need the bilateral security agreement: "...Everything works off of confidence. Markets work off confidence. We all work off confidence.

If there is a drop-dead deadline for signing an agreement with Afghanistan - why is that? Dempsey: "...there's physics involved, but we continue to assess that based on how the lines of communication are available to us. Yeah, there's physics."

Hagel on his exchange with Egypt's Minister of Defense al-Sisi on charges against Morsi: "...what I said to him was, which I have been consistently saying to him, is that every time one of these developments occur, the world sees that. And we see it. And we in the United States, I think, most people in most of the world wants a stable, secure, free, democratic Egypt. And most countries want to help them get there. But when these kind of developments occur, that sets back the effort." Read the whole transcript of yesterday's briefing here.

Hagel criticized the Chinese Navy for the incident with the Cowpens. The NYT's Thom Shanker: "The Chinese Navy has been "irresponsible," and its actions risk escalating tensions with the United States, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday in the highest-level rebuke of Beijing since a Chinese warship came dangerously close to an American guided missile cruiser this month... The defense secretary said that the two ships came within 100 yards of each other, and Pentagon officials disclosed that the Cowpens had to carry out emergency maneuvers to avoid hitting the Chinese vessel. Mr. Hagel, at a Pentagon news conference, said the decision by the Chinese warship ‘was not a responsible action.' ‘It was unhelpful,' he said. ‘It was irresponsible.' More here.

Apropos of nothing: kid channeling Mike Jackson has all the moves on this viral vid. Wanna feel good? Click here.  

Is the A-10 a CAS "wonder weapon" - or is it boneyard bound? The dynamic duo of Colin Clark and Sydney Freedberg team up to help answer the question: "The A-10 Warthog is ugly, tough, lethal, and fairly flexible. Its famous 30mm gun can destroy tanks or other armored vehicles with remarkable efficiency, not to mention enemy troops. Its titanium tub of a cockpit protects the plane's pilot from most ground fire. Its pilots are trained to fly low and slow and to kill the enemy even when he is within yards of US forces. The Army and Marines love the Warthog. In short, the A-10 appears to be the exemplar of Close Air Support, protecting Marines and Army troops when they face being overwhelmed by the enemy. Some members of Congress, with an eye on bases in their states and districts, love the plane as well and have championed legislation blocking the plane's retirement.

"Why, then, people ask, is the Air Force seriously considering sending the Warthogs to the great boneyard and their pilots to other missions? The answer is complex, but it boils down to three things: money, smart bombs, and threats." Read the rest of the tale, here.

Merry Christmas: NSA intercepted messages to Santa. The Duffel Blog: "The National Security Agency routinely intercepts children's letters to Santa, internal agency documents have revealed. The documents describe an operation known as MILK COOKIES, based out of Fort Meade and run in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Service. COOKIES is the interception of the letters while MILK feeds them through a complex..." Read the rest here but note that the url didn't work at Situation Report blast time - suspicious!